City authorities plan to return a heritage building that once housed the Buddha Bar in Menteng, Central Jakarta to its orginal function as an art center, an official said on Wednesday.
“The governor has requested that the building be turned into an art gallery,” said Arie Budhiman, head of the Jakarta Culture and Tourism Office.
When the Buddha Bar opened in the pre-World War I Bataviasche Kunstskring (Batavia Art Circle) building in October 2008, it was the first of the global chain of cocktail lounges to open in Asia.
However, the bar soon found itself at the center of a controversy as religious groups protested its name and the use of Buddha statues as decorations in the bar and restaurant.
Authorities eventually bowed to public pressure and sealed off the building last year.
Arie said the owner of the Buddha Bar, Nireta Vista Creative, had filed a request for a new business permit and drop the use of the name Buddha.
It now plans to open the “Bistro Boulevard” restaurant in the building .
“The request is still being processed,” Arie said.,
He said, however, that the building should operate primarily as an art gallery, with any restaurant or cafe opened in the same building operating as a secondary business.
He said the granting of a business permit to the owner would be conditional on this.
Donna Pratamawansyah, a spokeswoman for Bistro Boulevard, said when the Buddha Bar was still in operation, the building had featured an art gallery owned by the local government.
“And it was managed by us,” Donna said.
“So, although we have not yet been informed about who would manage the proposed art gallery in the building, there is a possibility that we would manage it as before.”
She said she envisaged the gallery acting as an entrance point to the restaurant.
Hendrik Sirait, from the Indonesian Legal Aid Association (PBHI), questioned why the owner of the building was being allowed to carry out renovation work despite the property having been officially sealed off.
The official city Web site, BeritaJakarta, quoted workers there as saying that no major renovations were being carried out.
“The sealing of the building is a legal action that should be respected by the building owner. After it has been sealed there should be no activity inside the building, including business or renovation,” Hendrik said.